Category Archives: Private

CWG: Private Thomas Townsend

Private Thomas Townsend

Thomas Townsend was born in Maidstone, Kent, in around 1864. Details of his early life are sketchy, but his mother was Mary Townsend, and he had an older brother, Henry.

Thomas worked as a labourer, mainly in brickyards, and, at the turn of the century, was living in to the north of Maidstone. The 1901 census records him as sharing his home with his wife, Lydia Townsend, her son, George Andrews, and a visitor, seven-year-old John Lassam.

The next census, in 1911, Thomas and Lydia are both shown as living in the same house, although it notes they had been married for eight years. John Lassam is still living at the property, by now as a boarder, while he was also working as a labourer.

Conflict was closing in on Europe and, despite being 50 when war was declared, Thomas was keen to play his part. He initially enlisted in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, but soon transferred across to The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Full details of his service as unclear, but it seems he was assigned to the National Reserve Guard at Faversham, Kent.

Private Townsend’s role was guard duty, possibly at the munitions factory in the town. While carrying out this role in the autumn of 1915, he caught a chill, which then became pneumonia. He was admitted to the Faversham Military Hospital, but the lung condition was to get the better of him, and he passed away on 28th November 1915. He was 51 years of age.

Thomas Townsend was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery, not far from where he carried out his military role.


CWG: Private Edward Hopson

Private Edward Hopson

The life of Edward Hopson looks likely to remain a mystery, and what can be pieced together is done from a few fragmented documents. His gravestone sits in the Faversham Borough Cemetery in Kent.

A local newspaper, contemporary to his passing in January 1915, acts at the starting point:

Edward Hopson, a Maidstone [Kent] man, belonging to the National Reserve Guard doing duty at the Explosives Works at Faversham, died suddenly while proceeding on duty on Tuesday night.

Evidence of identification was given by Joseph Cornelius, a Lance Corporal in the Guard, who stated that so far as was known, the deceased’s only relative was a half-brother. The deceased gave his age as 49 when he enlisted, but witness believed his correct age was 61. He was apparently in good health when passed for duty on Tuesday at the works of the Explosives Loading Company at Uplees.

Charles John Link, engaged on patrol duty at the works, stated that about 10:30 on Tuesday night he was accompanying deceased to the point where he was to do guard duty. On the way deceased complained that he could not see, and shortly afterwards, as they came to a style, he exclaimed “Oh! dear,” and then, dropping his rifle, he fell into the witness’s arms and expired.

South Eastern Gazette: Tuesday 26th January 1915

The cause of death was given to be heart disease, and, at the inquest, a verdict of “Death from Natural Causes” was given.

The report suggests that Edward was born either in around 1866 or 1854. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission give his parents as Jack and Annie Hopson, but there are no surviving census records from the 1800s that would corroborate this.

The 1911 census records an Edward Hopson, aged 57 and from Maidstone, Kent, residing in the Maidstone Union Workhouse. He is listed as a former farm labourer, and his marital stated us given as widowed.

If this is the Edward Hopson commemorated in Faversham Cemetery, it seems likely that he used the outbreak of war – and the opportunity to enlist – as his escape route from the workhouse.

He joined The Buffs (The East Kent Regiment), and was assigned, as a Private, to the 4th Battalion. This particular troop was dispatched to India in October 1914, and it seems likely that Private Hopson was reassigned to the National Reserves Guard, and posted to Faversham.

This is all conjecture, of course, but, either way, Private Hopson died of a heart attack on the night of the 19th January 1915, aged approximately 61 years old.


CWG: Private Albert Stockley

Private Albert Stockley

Albert William Stockley was born in the spring of 1897, the youngest of twelve children to Frank and Mary Ann Stockley. Frank was a clay cutter from Dorset, and he and his wife raised their family in the picturesque village of Corfe Castle.

Sadly, much of Albert’s life is lost to time. He would have been 17 years old when war broke out, so it seems likely that he would not have been in the first wave of men to enlist.

Albert joined the Dorsetshire Regiment and, as a Private, was assigned to the 1st/4th Battalion. His troop was based in India for the first part of the war, before moving to Mesopotamia in 1916. There is nothing to confirm, however, whether Private Stockley served abroad, or if he remained as part of a territorial force.

Private Stockley was demobbed on 22nd May 1919, and awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service. He returned to Dorset, but is it at this point that his trail goes cold.

All that is evident is that Albert William Stockley passed away on 1st April 1920, ages just 23 years old. was laid to rest in the Old Church Cemetery in his home town of Corfe Castle.


Albert shares his grave with his older sibling, George Stockley, who died in June 1916. The brothers are commemorated on the same headstone.


CWG: Private Walter Chapman

Private Walter Chapman

Walter Stanley Chapman was born in the summer of 1897, the younger of two boys to William and Sarah (known as Annie) Chapman. William was a carter on a farm in North Cadbury, near Yeovil, Somerset, and this is where the young family grew up.

When he left school, Walter became apprenticed to a local carpenter, but war was on the horizon. His older brother Frederick was quick to enlist, joining the Royal Marine Light Infantry as a Private. He served on HMS Hood during the Battle of Jutland in the spring of 1916, and was killed during the fighting. He was buried at sea, and was just 23 years old when he died.

The loss of his brother may have spurred Walter into action. He enlisted as well, joining the 1/4th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry as a Private. Details of his service are limited, but his battalion served in Mesopotamia during the conflict, and it is likely that he spent some time in the region.

Private Chapman survived the war, and returned to Somerset on furlough, waiting to be demobbed. Sadly, he passed away during this time, breathing his last on 19th April 1919, at the age of just 21 years old. William and Annie had lost both of their sons because of the conflict.

Walter Stanley Chapman was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in his home village of North Cadbury. His gravestone also commemorates the passing of his older brother.


CWG: Private Alonsa Dixon

Private Alonsa Dixon

Alonsa Dixon was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, in 1887, the oldest of seven children to Alonsa and Caroline Dixon. Alonsa Sr was a billiard marker, who raised his family in a small house near the city centre.

Alonsa Jr found work as an errand boy for a grocer when he left school, but went on to find work as a jobbing gardener. By the time of the 1911 census, he had moved out of home, and was boarding with cab driver George Gill and his family.

In April 1912, he married Edith Alice Gill. Trixie, as she was also known, was George’s daughter, and it seems likely that romance blossomed after Alonsa moved in. The couple went on to have a son, also called Alonsa, who was born the following year.

War was coming to Europe, and Alonsa was in one of the first waves of men to volunteer for King and Country. He enlisted in the East Yorkshire Regiment, and was assigned to the 13th Battalion. His service records show that he was 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, and weighed 144lbs (65.3kg). He was noted as being of good physical development.

Initially serving on home soil, Private Dixon was eventually dispatched overseas, arriving in Egypt in December 1915. Having spent just under three months in North Africa, he was moved to France in March the following year.

Alonsa had some health issues by this point, and was suffering from Bright’s Disease, or nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). He was treated in a field hospital in Abbeville, but subsequently medically evacuated back to England for further care.

Private Dixon was admitted to the Monastery Hospital in Wincanton, Somerset in April 1916, but his condition proved too severe, and he passed away on 10th July 1916. He was just 29 years of age.

Alonsa Dixon was laid to rest in the cemetery of the town in which he passed away, Wincanton.


Private Alonsa Dixon
(from findagrave.com)

CWG: Private Joseph Graham

Private Joseph Graham

Joseph Aitken Graham was born in Kirkmichael, Dumfries, in 1894 and was the son of James and Bella Graham. There is little detail about his early life, but, by the time war broke out, he was working with his father as a ploughman.

Joseph enlisted in November 1914, joining the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders as a Private. His medical report records that he was 5ft 9.5ins (1.77m) tall, weighed 145lbs (65.8kg), had grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

After a short period of training, Private Graham was sent to the Western Front, arriving in France on 2nd February 1915. He was involved in the fighting at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge. It was at Festubert, however, that things took a turn for the young private.

On the first day of the battle, 16th May 1915, Graham was badly injured, receiving gun shot and shrapnel wounds to his head and legs. He was initially treated at nearby Bethune, before being moved to Rouen. He was then evacuated to England in July, to further his recovery, and admitted to hospital in Wincanton, Somerset.

He was making such good progress that he was able to take a short walk each morning, and it was after one of these walks that he was taken ill. In spite of all that medical skill could do his condition became gradually worse, and it was thought advisable to send to Dumfries for his parents, who at once proceeded to Wincanton.

Dumfries and Galloway Standard: Saturday 8th January 1916

Sadly, nothing could be done for Private Graham: he passed away from a suspected brain haemorrhage on 22nd December 1915, at the aged just 21 years old.

Joseph Aitken Graham was laid to rest in the quiet and peaceful Wincanton Cemetery.


CWG: Private George Dove

Private George Dove

George Dove was born in Wincanton, Somerset, on 4th December 1883. One of five children, his parents were farm labourer George Dove and his wife, Jane.

George Jr did not follow his father into farm work: the 1901 census found him boarding with a family in Radstock, working in one of the coal mines in the area. Ten years later, he was living back with his family, employed as a groom.

His work with horses stood him in good stead when war was declared. George enlisted early on, and was assigned to the 19th (Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal) Hussars as a Private. By October 1914, he was in France, returning to England with his squadron the following spring.

At some point during the conflict, Private Dove transferred to the Reserve Regiment of Cavalry. He was posted to the 5th Regiment, which trained men for the Northumberland Hussars and Yorkshire Dragoons, amongst others.

Further details of George’s life are scarce; at some point, he married a woman called Emily, although records of the couple’s wedding no longer exist. The only thing that can be confirmed is that George was admitted to the Bermondsey Military Hospital in Surrey, where he passed away on 24th October 1918. He was 34 years old.

The body of George Dove was brought back to Somerset for burial. He lies at rest in the cemetery in his home town, Wincanton.


CWG: Private Alfred Beake

Private Alfred Beake

Alfred Beake was born in December 1898 and was one of nine children to Alfred and Charlotte Beake. Alfred Sr was a baker from Westonzoyland in Somerset, but it was in Chard that he and Charlotte had set up home and raised their family.

There is little documented about Alfred’s life. He played his part in the First World War, and had joined the Worcestershire Regiment by November 1918. His troop – the 5th (Reserve) Battalion – was a territorial force, and he would have split his time between Harwich, Essex, and Plymouth, Devon.

Private Beake survived the war and, by the spring of 1919 had been moved to Dublin. It was here on 18th May that he met with colleagues Private Simpson and Swindlehurst in the centre of the city. The trio caught a tram to the coastal town of Howth for a day out, where tragedy struck.

The Dublin Evening Telegraph reported on what happened next:

Private Sydney Simpson, Royal Engineers, stated… when they got to Howth, they walked along the Cliff Walk for about a mile, when they saw some seagulls down the cliff. [Beake and Swindlehurst] went out of witness’s sight for a while, when he heard a shout from Swindlehurst for help. On hurrying back, he saw Swindlehurst looking towards the sea, and he said the deceased had slipped down. The cliff was so steep that, although they tried to get down, they could not do so. Witness sent for help. None of the party had taken any drink.

Private Swindlehurst… said that he and deceased climbed down the grassy slope to get some seagulls’ eggs, but that the deceased suddenly slipped down. There was no horseplay going on at the time when the accident took place.

Captain Wynne, Royal Army Medical Corps, who made a post mortem examination, described the terrible injuries which the deceased had sustained. Death must have been instantaneous.

Dublin Evening Telegraph: Wednesday 21st May 1919

Private Beake had suffered a fractured skull from the fall. He was just 20 years of age.

Alfred Beake’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Chard Cemetery.


Alfred’s oldest brother, Walter George Beake, had also served in the First World War.

Private Beake fought with the 7th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, and was involved in some of the key skirmishes of the Somme. But it was at Ypres that he was buried alive during an attack, and the resulting shell shock left him totally incapacitated.

Walter was discharged from the army on medical grounds in September 1916. He returned home to try and piece his life together again. He never married, and passed away in December 1978, at the age of 87 years old.


CWG: Private Wilfred Follett

Private Wilfred Follett

Wilfred Alson Follett was born in the spring of 1898, and was the second of eight children to Robert and Ellen (known as Nellie) Follett. Robert was a scavenger (or street cleaner) for Chard council, and it was in this Somerset town where his and Nellie’s young family were raised.

Lace making was the predominant industry in the area, and it was for local employer Boden & Co.’s Old Town Mills that Wilfred worked when he finished school. The 1911 census recorded him as being a threading boy in the factory.

War was coming to Europe, however, and Wilfred was keen to play a part. Sadly, full details of his military service are lost to time, but he had enlisted by the spring of 1917, initially joining the Somerset Light Infantry. He soon transferred across to the Welch Regiment, however, and was assigned to the 10th (Service) Battalion.

Private Follett was sent to the Western Front at the start of July 1917, and was soon caught up in the thick of the action at Ypres. He came through the Battle of Pilkem, but was injured at the fighting in Langemark. His wounds were severe enough for him to be evacuated to England for treatment, and he was admitted to a hospital in Bradford, Yorkshire.

Robert was sent for, but sadly did not arrive in time to see Wilfred before he passed away from his injuries. He died on 20th August 1917, at the tender age of just 19 years old.

Wilfred Alson Follett was brought back to his home town for burial. He was laid to rest in Chard Cemetery.


CWG: Private Frederick Harris

Private Frederick Harris

Frederick Jacob Harris was born in Wadeford, near Chard in Somerset, on 28th August 1887. The fourth of eleven children, his parents were William and Grace Harris. William was an agricultural labourer and carter, but the busy lace and weaving industry in the area is what provided Frederick and his siblings with work when they finished school.

It may have been through his work in the factory that Frederick met Alice Dowell: she was the daughter of a lace hand from Chard. The couple married on 20th October 1906, and settled in a house near the centre of the town. They went on to have four children, two boys and two girls.

War was closing in on Europe by this point, although there is little specific information about Frederick’s service. He initially joined the Somerset Light Infantry, although he soon made the move to the Royal Fusiliers. He received the Victory and British Medals, as did everyone else who served in the Great War, but there is no confirmation of whether he saw action overseas or not.

However and wherever Private Harris served, he survived the conflict, and was demobbed on 25th May 1919. His discharge record suggests that, at the point of being released form duty, he had no injuries or disabilities, and nothing that could be attributed to his time in the army.

Frederick appears to have returned to Chard, and spend the next six months adjusting to civilian life. However, something changed, as, on 10th December 1919, he passed away at home. No cause of death is evident, and nothing in the contemporary local media suggests that his died of anything other than natural causes. Whatever led to his passing, he was taken early, as he was only 32 years of age.

Frederick Jacob Harris was laid to rest in Chard Cemetery.